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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

jumbo straw bale house

I like housing that is outside the norm, which could also be phrased, I like abnormal housing. Look at my Pinterest page to see all the alternatives that strike my fancy. Maybe they have a different shape, or a smaller size, or use a different building material.

In New England, we have an abundance of stone houses. We "grow" as many rocks as we do trees up here. I like the solidity of stone. I like the solidity of timber framing as well. But stone is continuously solid, unlike the fame only of the timber. Growing up, I played in rock forts. I didn't build them, but in the woods around my childhood home, boulders that were dug up and out of the way of construction were shoved into the woods. They made a great fortress for childhood Johnny.
Nowadays, I like rammed earth. It's solid, and beautiful.
I also like the earth log wall.

But I live in New England which gets pretty cold. Neither dirt nor stone have a great R-value. I like thermal mass, but research shows, in climates where the cold lasts for a long time, it doesn't help much.

I do have this ongoing thing for straw bale construction. In the past I've mused over pairing straw bales with rammed earth walls before. I think "jumbo straw bale" construction might be the method closer to my happy ideals. There is an architect doing this in Switzerland, Werner Schmidt. I love what he's doing.

This is one guest house. It looks normal, right? More pictures here. You can't tell the walls are 4 feet thick. Construction info and video here.

Here is another guest house/hotel.

With passive solar and the super insulation of the straw walls, it only needs an emergency heater. It's nearly completely passive. As long as the sun shines on it in the winter often enough, it will stay warm.

The construction video is great as well.


The picture below is a jumbo straw bale house with a steel frame in Australia, a climate which does not deal with cold, but heat.


With four foot walls, a tiny house builder need not consider them. But a small house, on a big enough lot, should achieve Net Zero pretty easily. A tiny house of regular straw bales would be sweet.

The thing with building with rocks or earth bags or rammed earth, is the bullet-proof aspect to them, literally. It's not a feature of regular straw bales, but I can imagine it's possibility with these jumbo bales. This got me thinking about the deadly disasters in tornado alley in the United States. Current research shows that if the midwest built with hurricane straps, more roofs would be saved and thus more houses. Only the all-concrete structures survive a direct hit of the EF-5 tornadoes. Monolithic dome, underground home, and ICF home builders are advertising their products' performances in these storms. I like them all. But I wonder if the massive 1200 lb. jumbo bales with concrete finishes inside and out might also be another option. [Update: This article at the Discovery Channel shows positive results with the tornado cannon.] The bale houses use much less concrete or cement and sequesters tons of carbon, literally, in that straw. It insulates with natural materials.

The roof is still an issue, but here is a solution in Germany, a straw bale round house with straw bales insulating the dome. Timbrel vaults, built with brick, might be another option as well, with the insulation on the ceiling underneath the vault. The Australian house above, with the steel frame is bolted together, roof to foundation.

Here are some useful principles in house design for cyclonic climates.

Cost is always the issue though. The houses go up quickly, but they are in the passive house price range, which you pays itself back in the very low heating and cooling costs.


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